America Was Never White

| Educate!

Note: The glaring fact not mentioned, except in passing, in this otherwise excellent historical analysis is that when the Europeans began to seize and occupy land in North America the country was widely inhabited. A discussion of America never being white needs to emphasize that there were numerous nations and tens of millions Indigenous Peoples living across the continent. If a census was taken of North America it would be a very long time before the majority was European Americans and it would in part require the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Indigenous to achieve a European majority. KZ

Events in Charlottesville recently cascaded into domestic terrorism. Three dead and dozens wounded as neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other “alt-right” members descended upon the university that Thomas Jefferson built; their purpose, it is alleged, to defend a statue – a monument – to the Confederate Civil War soldier, General Robert E. Lee. These radical rightists arrived from all across the United States upon the college town of Charlottesville to protect, in their words, their “white” heritage. Among the many problems I have with so-called “white supremacists” is their purposeful mixing of “heritage” with “history,” rhetorically pining for a once proud “white” America.

But history proves that America was never white.

That I need to make this statement, and worse, that some may take offense from it, shows the blurring rhetoric between what is Heritage and what is History. I’ll return to this later. For now, some History.

The first successful colonial holding in these current United States was Spanish, at St. Augustine, Florida, established 1565, four decades plus prior to Virginia’s Jamestown.

America was never white.

Speaking of Jamestown, the first Africans were brought into Virginia on a Dutch trading ship in 1619, a year before Pilgrims landed in Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts.

America was never white.

And nearly half of those Pilgrims could not speak English. Of the near half that couldn’t, most spoke Dutch, with a scattering of German and French. America from the get go was not an English-speaking nation. When the Puritan, William Bradford, arranged the first Indian Treaty signing in 1621, it was with Massasoit, a Pokanoket of the Wampanoag Confederacy. At this time, depending on which archeologist you ask, the native population of North America was anywhere between 8 to 20 million. English speakers? Less than a thousand.

America was never white.

And it was the Dutch who seemed ascendant, as they settled New Amsterdam and the Hudson River Valley beginning in 1625. English-speaking America was in the minority of the European languages spoken by 1670. The French were firmly in place along the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes region, and it may come as some surprise to many Americans, but Green Bay, Wisconsin was once “La Baye des Puants” which is what the French called it when they founded “The Bay of Stinks” in 1634. Spain still reigned in Florida and along the Gulf Coast. Even the Swedes set up shop along the Delaware River taking up large swaths of what is today Delaware and Pennsylvania.

And if you were around in the mid-eighteenth century, don’t ask Benjamin Franklin about the indentured Palatines. In 1751 Franklin penned, “Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, etc.” where he openly called German-speakers “swarthy” and “stupid,” that they would likely “Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them” unless there was a change to immigration policies.

Of course, one of the more famous eighteenth-century colonial wars, the French and Indian War, lasted nine years, and only after victory was secured in 1763, did English speakers become dominant among the many European powers that settled North America.

Back to Africans, according to SlaveVoyages.org, the activities of the Atlantic slave trade brought 9,507 Africans to mainland America by 1699. Over the next 75-years, or a year before the United States declared its Independence, another 220,000 were brought to slave upon the American mainland. The 1790 census (the first undertaken by the United States) proved 740,054 Africans in America, or 26.5% of the population just a year after the Constitution was ratified.

America was never white.

And the Revolutionary War was not white on white violence, or English speakers against Mother England. There was the famed Ethiopian Brigade, which General George Washington did his best to avoid. Yes, blacks fought on both sides of the war. And Crispus Attucks was black and he was the first to die at the Boston Massacre of 1770. Indians, too, fought in this war, forced to take sides by both British and colonial forces.

America was never white.

Even when the nation was young, and found a bargain from Napoleon to purchase all of Louisiana – yes, we gained the entire Mississippi River watershed, but since France had only just won Louisiana, a trophy for defeating Spain in Europe, and unable to hold on to Haiti in the Caribbean where slaves successfully rebelled, America received the Midwest which was filled with the indigenous mostly, and some Spaniards too.

America was never white.

Equally, the war of 1812, which once again pitted the United States against Britain, was not wholly a white on white conflict. Again, Native Americans took sides, the Shawnee chief Tecumseh had formed a large multi-tribal confederacy and played an enormous role in ensuring that the young United States failed at taking Canada. The great United States Navy admiral, Oliver Hazard Perry, along with Daniel Dobbins, a shipmaster, built a fleet from greenwood on Lake Erie using African Americans to build and then man the fleet. At War’s end, at the Battle of New Orleans, General Andrew Jackson’s fighting force included Choctaw Indians, and freed blacks.

America was never white.

Texas, and the Mexican-American War which followed its annexation, obviously entailed the gaining of territory inhabited by Native Americans and Hispanics. When gold was all the rage in California, the world landed upon its shores. People from Europe, South America, and yes, Asia (China, in particular) descended and many remained.

America was never white.

In military history the 54th All Black Regiment of the Civil War, the 369th Infantry known as the “The Harlem Hellfighters” in World War One, and the all-Japanese 442th Infantry during the Second World War, still – to this day – remain some of the most wartime decorated units of our country’s fighting forces.

America was never white.

Which brings us to the topic of heritage and history. For this I’ll quote famed historian David Lowenthal. Author of The Heritage Crusade and the Spoils of History, Lowenthal remarks that heritage is not history at all: “it is not an inquiry into the past, but a celebration of it … a profession of faith in a past tailored to present-day purposes.”

Monuments, under this definition, are not history. Monuments are memory-makers, celebratory edifices erected to hide History’s complexity, drown curiosity, and feed the simple in the present and in the future.

If we dig past the monuments of the Robert E. Lee’s and the Stonewall Jackson’s erected in the 1920s (Jim Crow era) or the 1950s (Civil Rights era), some in far away Arizona (Arizona achieved statehood in 1912, the Civil War ended in 1865), what we get to is a place called the past where easily traceable demographics prove a country filled with ethnicities from all over the world. What the alt-right desires is an America where whites maintain some semblance of power over anyone of color if not outright ethnic cleansing. Their rhetoric of Heritage is pure myth, a fabrication of a false past, creating memory where none existed.

America was never white, and it never will be.

Joe Krulder, Ph.D., teaches history at Butte College.

  • Wacanta

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Germans, French, and Dutch people are white, so what the fuck is the author of this post using them to say ameriKKKa was never white, while completely leaving out (except for a couple of sentences) the Indigenous People’s who were already here when the genocidal columbus invaded Turtle Island?!?!

  • Lili-Ann Berg

    I agree with you completely. The First People are the real Americans, the only ones with the right to talk about heritage. The so called white people, the Europeans, were all brutal invaders, colonialists, religious freaks and genocidal maniacs. Apparently nothing much has changed.
    The note at the beginning of the article mention all this, but it’s written by someone else whose initials are KZ, not the author of the actual article.

  • Wacanta

    Thanks for your reply, Ms Berg, and while I did read the note at the beginning of this post, I felt the need to reiterate how ludicrous it was to make barely a mention of the Oyate already here before the wasichu’s invaded. ameriKKKa is not unique in this, and Australia is another example of where the Indigenous People’s were nearly wiped out when the white people showed up.

  • Lili-Ann Berg

    I am a naturalized Australian citizen and lived there for 41 years. What happened in Australia when the Brits invaded in 1788 was beyond atrocious. The Aboriginal people are still suffering from rampant racial discrimination and neglect. White Australians are among the most arrogant and racist people in the world.It’s one of the reasons I don’t want to live there anymore

  • Wacanta

    Pretty much how I feel about ameriKKKa, where I have lived my entire 64 years! I’m in Colorado at 9300′ in the Rockies in a town of 900, living in my tiny house, and the thought of dragging it up to BC (if Canada didn’t have such strict immigration policies) keeps me going! Hope you found a good place to be, and stay well and take care.

  • Linda Jansen

    KZ is Kevin Zeese, one of the editors of Popular Resistance.

  • Lili-Ann Berg

    Thank you! I wish you all the best and hope your dream of Canada may come true.

  • DHFabian

    No, no humans originated on this chunk of land, North America. We’re all descended from people who had migrated here. It is believed, based on archeological evidence, etc., that the first humans to set foot on North America had crossed over a land bridge that once connected Asia with (what is now) Alaska. These people ultimately migrated south into what became the US.

    Unless archeologists and scientists find evidence of earlier humans, this land does, indeed, belong to those we call American Indians, or Native Americans, migrating from what is now known as Asian Russia. Remember Indians? Of all Americans, these — the original settlers — are probably the most marginalized.

    I think the relevance of the article is in the fact that it’s almost September, time to begin setting the stage for the annual season of bashing those of European descent, portraying them as 2-dimensional pawns. We will indulge in a stunningly simplistic and confused historic “discussion.” We’ll cover all the popular stereotypes from Columbus to the Puritans to the anti-witch hysteria, which blends into the stereotyping/bashing of Christians for Christmas. It is a season of simplistic hostility, a solid American tradition.

  • DHFabian

    Actually, Columbus & crew weren’t about committing genocide. They — three ships of people — were a late 1400s version of a business venture.
    They set out to find a shorter western sea route to China, India, etc., with a focus on Far Eastern spices, silk, etc. Just what happened during Columbus’ trips is, by now, a wildly knotted ball of yarn made from facts and fallacies, evidence and myths. The greed that defines American culture, and our ventures, hasn’t changed. We see this in our modern oil wars.

  • DHFabian

    I get the gist of your post, but things are actually more complicated. Every nation, every race, has a heritage, and a right to talk about that heritage. Not sure what “so called white” means. We do, oddly, refer to peoples by color — black, white, brown, red, yellow. Yes, they are so called. I’m white, and my ancestors were not (see your list above).

    My mother’s family descends from Russian (Christian) peasants who fled the Russian Revolution early in the 1900s, and my father’s family (family business owners) fled Poland ahead of the Nazi invasion in the 1930s. To my knowledge, there wasn’t a single invader, colonialist, religious freak or genocidal maniac in the lot. In fact, my family story is pretty ordinary, about ordinary people just trying to get by. Just like most people in this country.

  • DHFabian

    But do you stereotype all white people as genocidal, etc.? If so, I think you ,might get a wider view of the human race by studying, for example, Asian and African history. For that matter, look into the genocidal history of Hispanic people, both in early American history, and the histories of South and Central America. The greed that drives genocide is universal. Those who conquer have always been those with the biggest manpower,, most lethal weapons. People in different parts of the world typically attribute the greatest evils to “the other race.”

  • DHFabian

    I can’t give you a solution because the problem is universal. Whichever race dominates — that is, in the majority — will be stereotyped as arrogant, racist, etc.

    With all of our pretenses of being an advanced and enlightened species, humans remain separated and tribal by race.

  • DHFabian

    Canada has its problems as well, regarding conflicts between indigenous people, and those who came later, etc. There is no utopia, and there is no place where human hate/greed doesn’t exist. If we were all the same color, we would still find ways to separate and tribalize the masses.

  • Lili-Ann Berg

    When we discussed the indigenous Americans or the First People, we were obviously referring to the American Indians and later the Australian Aboriginals. And evidently we were not speaking about innocent individuals, but in general terms about those who committed the atrocities. It was not an attack on your particular family of immigrants. Even so, you come across as an ardent admirer of empire building and as the archetypical white supremacist who cannot bear criticism of your impeccable Christian values and your solid European heritage.

    Your reference to the “marginalized original settlers”, the American Indians, made no sense. By marginalized did you mean they were insignificant? Or did you mean they were/are treated as insignificant? Was there perhaps a touch of real human empathy in that sentence or am I grossly mistaken? By the way,the original name given to Australia by European explorers was “Terra Nullius” .(empty land), despite the fact that it had been populated for some 40.000 years before the European invasion. Talk about marginalized people – the aboriginal inhabitants were hunted like animals, not even seen as humans Proud of my European heritage? I don’t think so.
    There will never be an excuse for racism, for genocide, for rapacious greed and the inhumane treatment of fellow human beings. There is no excuse for America’s endless wars, violence and hegemonic aspirations. You are not exceptional, your country is a mess and your aggressive military and capitalistic avarice are a constant threat to world peace. It may come as a surprise to you, but you are globally hated as a nation.
    And as for Wacanta’s wish to move to Canada – sure it has it’s own problems but at least they don’t let their people die in agony and despair for lack of .universal health care.

  • Wacanta

    Hey, thanks for whitesplaining history to me, but columbus was a genocidal fuck.

  • Wacanta

    Thanks, and I’m working on it!

  • Wacanta

    Thanks, Capt Obvious!

  • Wacanta

    The fact is that columbus subjugated the Indigenous People’s he encountered, and your whitesplaining of his genocide is not appreciated.